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Outdoors effort good for people

February 18, 2011
The Mining Journal

The Marquette area was in the limelight for hosting a sitting president for the second time in less than seven years when President Barack Obama came to town last week. The hoopla surrounding the visit was taken in stride by the residents of the area, as well as by the local government and university officials who hosted the president, and law enforcement personnel who were charged with providing security.

The large crowd that attended his speech at Northern Michigan University and countless more who viewed it on TV heard a strong message about how important the Internet has become to education and business, even in a small community such as ours. He stressed the importance of everybody - government, education, business and the public - embracing the age of the Internet to help us live more fruitful and happy lives.

His whirlwind visit of about four hours flew by quickly and within a few days the talk on the street had shifted back to the normal stuff as the fervor over Obama's visit died down. The president recently discussed another aspect of life in America that he again stressed was important to not only having a more satisfying life, but also protecting some of the more beautiful natural resources in the country.

This initiative is America's Great Outdoors, which Obama discussed at a White House press conference on Wednesday. Included in the program are three main objectives - protecting public lands, enhancing conservation and encouraging outdoor recreation.

Much of the effort to achieve these goals will be done through the three main federal land managing agencies - Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management - under existing programs.

There will be some additional funding for specific aspects of the initiative, such as increased buying of private land for public use and conservation grants for states.

The program also stresses one of first lady Michelle Obama's main objectives - getting kids outdoors and exercising more. Ironically, cited by Obama as one of the main reasons for the obesity rate tripling among American youths was increased use of computers and other electronic devices by youngsters.

"These days, our lives are only getting more complicated, more busy, and we're glued to our phones and our computers for hours on end," Obama said in his Wednesday talk on the initiative. "At times like these, we have to ask ourselves: What can we do to break free from the routine and reconnect with the world around us? What can we do to get our kids off the couch and out the door?"

Answering those questions will be worked on under the America's Great Outdoors program, as well as protecting and expanding the areas available for recreation.

The program also has an economic benefit aspect to it, including creating more jobs in tourism and recreation and establishing a Conservation Service Corps, which could put thousands of young people to work on recreation and land and water conservation projects.

Residents of many areas of the country, including the Upper Peninsula, have had longstanding relationships with our natural environment and can relate to what the president is saying about the value of quality outdoor activities and the places to enjoy them.

There is also a little fear among some of these people that an increased federal presence in the areas addressed in the America's Great Outdoors program will lead to more controls on what we can do in the outdoors.

Western folks have raised some concern that the outdoors initiative could further restrict or prohibit what Americans can do on public lands, including ranching, farming and logging. Here in Michigan, we're seeing some of this in the Huron-Manistee National Forest in the northern Lower Peninsula, where there is a movement afoot to restrict firearm hunting and snowmobiling.

Obama didn't give the impression in his talk the other day that more restrictions would result from the initiative, specifically mentioning the need to protect "the rivers where we fish, the forests where we hunt."

There is, of course, the possibility that special interest groups such as anti-hunting and anti-logging organizations could attempt to influence what is done under the America's Great Outdoors program, but it certainly doesn't sound as though the Obama Administration will allow that to happen.

Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is



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